Back to Paradise – A Tribute to Okie Music
Think Tulsa and inevitably the names of J.J. Cale, Leon Russell, The Gap Band, Jesse Ed Davis, and others come to mind. Today, it’ likely John Fullbright, John Moreland, Paul Benjamin, Jesse Aycock, and others. Fullbright, Benjamin, Aycock and six more pay tribute to that distinctive Tulsa sound on this set that features nine artists and twenty musicians in total, Back to Paradise – A Tribute to Okie Music. As it says in some of the promo materials, “20 musicians, 2 engineers, 17 tracks in 4 days….and lots of pinball.” They cover tunes from Cale, Russell, The Gap Band, Davis, and more.
What’s perhaps most unusual, as per the album title, is that these twenty musicians in February of this year, (yes, before the onset of the pandemic) traveled to Leon Russell’s famed Paradise Studio in Grand Lake, OK to record the first album done there since 1978. So, in a similar way that musicians feel walking into the historic studios in Muscle Shoals or Memphis, they sensed a special kind of atmosphere that Russell and Cale felt, “still vibrating today.” Most of the tacks, as you’d expect given the four-day time span, were recorded live with few overdubs. Although the album lists the musicians, it falls short of detailing which instrument each play. Suffice it say the core band consists of Benjamin, Aycock, Fullbright, Paddy Ryan and Aaron Boehler.
The participating musicians chose the songs for the album. Four will or have been released as singles/videos “I’ll Make Love to You” (by J.J. Cale and performed by Benjamin),”If The Shoe Fits” (by Leon Russell and performed by Fullbright), “I Yike It” (by The Gap Band and performed by Charlie Redd and Briana Wright), and “Rock n Roll Gypsies” (by Gypsy Trips and performed by Aycock). Yet, the group stayed away, for the most part, from the mega hits of the iconic artists and do tunes from the likes of lesser known writers such as Cliff Beasley, Steve Pryor, Junior Markham, and others. They cover Cale twice and only once for Davis, Russell, and The Gap Band.
Also, the material is more varied than expected, They are not all in the vein of that famous lazy Tulsa shuffle popularized mostly by Cale. Some tunes are more soul-oriented with a full horn section while others venture toward gospel (Fullbright’s rendering of Steve Ripley’s “Crossing Over” is a standout track), blues (Branjae doing Lowell Fulson’s “Tramp,” and country folk (Dustin Pittsley covering “Blind Man” written by Tom Skinner and Don Morris), and straight ah
ead rock refreshingly from one of the few female voices other than the honky tonkin’ Aycock as Sarah Frick takes the lead on Dwight Tilley’s “I’m On Fire” as just a few examples of the wide range. The tribute is to be commended for its wide swath of styles as many pigeonhole the Tulsa sound into only that famous shuffle. Today, Oklahoma music is thriving as much as it did in the glory heydays recalled here. It’s a nice blend of the past and present.
- Jim Hynes